“The San Patricios were alienated both from American society as well as the US Army. They realized that the army was not fighting a war of liberty, but one of conquest against fellow Catholics such as themselves.”
–Professor Kirby Miller of the University of Missouri, Irish immigration expert.
A Galway soldier’s heroic exploits fighting for Mexico during the Mexican-American War of 1846 to 1848 has led to the Government of Mexico bestowing its highest honour for non-Mexicans upon The Chieftains’ founder Paddy Moloney.
In 2010, The Chieftains recorded the album ‘San Patricio’, which told the story of the Irish Saint Patrick’s Battalion, who fought for Mexico against the Americans, led by Galway man Sergeant John Riley, who hailed from Clifden.
Among the contributors to the ‘San Patricio’ album was Hollywood star Liam Neeson, who has asked to play the part of Sgt Riley should a planned film about the Irish Battalion come to pass. Mr Moloney revealed that he has already held talks with ‘Michael Collins’ director Neil Jordan about making the film.
“Twenty-five years ago I was researching music of the American Civil War and I came across this intriguing, fascinating, untold piece of history called the Saint Patrick’s Battalion, the Irish soldiers, among them Sergeant John Riley, a native of Clifden, Co. Galway, who joined forces with the Mexican side during the Mexican-American War of 1846 to 1848,” said Mr Moloney.
He added that he has known Liam Neeson for years and thought his voice was “just spot on” for the album. “I called him up and told him the story and he was just fascinated by it and the comment from him was, ‘If you make a movie of this, I want to be Galway man John Riley, the commander’,” recalled the Chieftain’s founder-member.
In recognition of Mr Moloney’s work on the ‘San Patricio’ album, The Ambassador of Mexico to Ireland, Mr Carlos Garcia de Alba announced that Mr Moloney is the latest recipient of the prestigious ‘Ohtli’. The award is Mexico’s highest cultural award to citizens outside of Mexico and is in recognition of Mr Moloney’s contribution to strengthening links between Ireland and Mexico.
More Background: The Saint Patrick’s Battalion (Spanish: Batallón de San Patricio), formed and led by Jon Riley, was a unit of 175 to several hundred immigrants (accounts vary) and expatriates of European descent who fought as part of the Mexican Army against the United States in the Mexican-American War of 1846 to 1848. Most of the battalion’s members had deserted or defected from the U.S. Army. Made up primarily of ethnic Irish and German Catholic immigrants, the battalion included Canadians, English, French, Italians, Poles, Scots, Spaniards, Swiss, and native Mexicans, most of whom were Roman Catholics. Disenfranchised Americans were in the ranks, including escaped slaves from the American South. The Mexican government offered incentives to foreigners who would enlist in its army: granting them citizenship, paying higher wages than the U.S. Army and the offer of generous land grants. Only a few members of the Saint Patrick’s Battalion were actual U.S. citizens.